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The Super Fights Of The Last 40 Years: Part Three

Frank Lotierzo

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In Part Three, I'll provide thoughts and insight on Hagler-Leonard, Tyson-Spinks, Tyson-Holyfield I, Holyfield-Tyson II, De La Hoya-Trinidad, Tyson-Lewis and De La Hoya-Mayweather.

In 1987 Sugar Ray Leonard scored the signature win of his career over undisputed middleweight champ Marvin Hagler. Shortly after that Mike Tyson took the baton from Leonard and became boxing's biggest star and draw through the early 1990's.

Oscar De La Hoya became boxing's poster child after Tyson and carried the torch and handed it off to both Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

As of 2014 boxing isn't as mainstream as it was during the eras of Ali, Leonard, Tyson and De La Hoya. Today there's only one fight that could be realized that would mostly like be added to this list down the road and that's Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. It's been five years in the making and is at least three years past it's “sell-by-date.” That said, I believe it will eventually come to fruition.

Marvin Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard (April 6, 1987) When it comes to anticipation, the only fight that captured my interest more than Hagler-Leonard was the first meeting between Ali-Frazier.

Leonard 33-1 (24) hadn't fought since May of 1984 when he had to get off the deck to stop Kevin Howard. At that time Hagler 62-2-2 (52) had totally cleaned out the middleweight division, and aside from fighting Leonard, he had nothing left to conquer or prove. These two had been on a collision course since they both fought for the middleweight and welterweight titles on November 30, 1979.

On that night Hagler fought middleweight champ Vito Antuofermo to a draw, despite everyone who watched it thinking he won the fight going away. An hour later Leonard stopped Wilfred Benitez in the same ring to win the WBC welterweight title. This would be Hagler's 13th defense of his middleweight title and Leonard's first fight at middleweight. Leonard agreed to let have Hagler have a larger share of the purse, but Hagler consented to let Leonard chose the gloves (10 oz Reyes), along with limiting the fights distance to 12 rounds and the ring to be 20 feet.

ODDS: On the day of the fight Hagler was between a 3/4 – 1 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: I had always thought that Leonard had the style to deal with Hagler, and I didn't believe Marvin had a big enough punch to knock Leonard out. Therefore if they ever fought the fight would go the distance and favor Leonard. In his fight before meeting Leonard, Hagler won a war with John “The Beast” Mugabi, stopping him in the 11th round. Leonard was sitting ringside that night and saw Hagler eat more big shots than he ever did in any other fight. Leonard saw the time was right and issued the challenge to Hagler, fully aware that Marvin couldn't decline the money and stature that beating Ray would bring him. Sensing that Leonard knew something that nobody else did, along with believing he had the style edge, I was sure Leonard would beat Hagler if he didn't get knocked out. Since I didn't think Leonard was going to be knocked out and knew he kept training weekly during his retirement, I bet a bunch of money on Leonard to win and got 4-1 odds.

Result: A minute into the first round it was obvious that Hagler was having trouble dealing with Leonard's hand speed and movement. Leonard clearly won the first three rounds of the fight without ever being touched. Hagler won five of the next nine rounds. There were times during the bout that Leonard made Hagler look like an amateur and he even managed to win more than a few exchanges when they went at. But Hagler kept forcing the fight and after 12 rounds it was close. The officials scored it 118-110, 115-113 and 113-115 for Leonard. The AP saw it 117-112 Hagler, Harold Lederman of HBO had it 115-113 Leonard. Ring Magazine saw it 115-113 Leonard and the NYTimes, NY Post and Washington Post scored it 114-114……..I had it 115-113 Leonard. 27 years later fans are still arguing over who really won the fight and every time I've watched it since that night, it gets closer and closer.

Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks (June 27, 1988) I never considered Tyson-Spinks a Super Fight, but the know-nothings about fights and fighters media did. The only intrigue in this fight was both Tyson 34-0 (30) and Spinks 31-0 (21) were undefeated and one was a fighter (Tyson) and the other was a boxer (Spinks). That and Spinks ended Larry Holmes' seven year title reign via two close and controversial decisions. Some in the media tried to sell Tyson-Spinks as being the Ali-Frazier of the eighties, which was as Mike Tyson used to say, preposterous. Tyson was at his peak at this time and the desire for him to be part of a big fight was growing. He was clearly the best heavyweight in the world and was the biggest star in the heavyweight division since Muhammad Ali.

Spinks made his mark as being a great light heavyweight and with no one to fight in the division he moved up to heavyweight. Before facing Tyson he stopped a rusty Gerry Cooney, who only fought three times in five years after losing to Homes. This was a manufactured Super Fight because Tyson was a huge star and Spinks fit the role as the perfect foil. At that time Tyson held all the title belts, but Spinks was seen as the lineal champ, which really meant nothing at the time. The biggest reason the fight was made was to insure that there was no doubt as to who the heavyweight champion really was, even though everyone really knew.

ODDS: On the day of the fight Tyson was a 4-1 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: I had no doubt in my mind that Tyson was going to stop Spinks in the first round. For starters, Spinks wasn't a legitimate heavyweight and swarmers bothered him more than any other style. At that time Tyson was the greatest swarmer in boxing and had no fear of Spinks' power – and he knew he was too strong and that Spinks wasn't going to be able to move and box him. I saw Tyson-Spinks as being a replica of Frazier-Foster eighteen years earlier. But since Mike started off faster than Joe did, I was certain he'd get rid of Michael inside the first round instead of the two that Frazier needed to nearly decapitate Foster.

Result: Spinks came out as if to say I know I have no chance to beat you if I try to run and attempt to out-box you, so let's just get it over with. Tyson dropped Spinks to his knee with a body shot a minute into the fight. He then knocked him out with the first big shot he landed after Michael got up. In total the bout lasted just 91 seconds.

Mike Tyson Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield (November 9, 1996) Tyson 45-1 (39) and Holyfield 32-3 (23) had been on a collision course since they first sparred at the Olympic trials in 1984. It was reported back then that the gym wars between Tyson and Holyfield were a toss up, with neither ever really besting the other. For most of Tyson's first title run, Holyfield, the undisputed cruiserweight champ, was the fighter he was always asked about fighting. However, it didn't become a big deal until Buster Douglas knocked out Tyson to win the title in February of 1990, then lost it eight months later when he was knocked out by Holyfield.

Tyson and Holyfield were first signed to fight in November of 1991, but Tyson hurt his rib training for the fight and the bout was canceled. Shortly afterwards Tyson was convicted of rape and went to jail for three years. In November of 1996 Holyfield was coming off his worst two showings as a pro versus Riddick Bowe and Bobby Czyz. His performance was so bad that the Nevada commission demanded that Evander be cleared medically before they'd sanction the fight. Holyfield passed their test and the fight was made.

ODDS: On the day of the fight Tyson was a 6-1 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: Had the fight in 1991 been realized, I was absolute in my thinking that Holyfield had the skill, chin and toughness to be Mike's stumbling block and would stop him. However, in November of 1995, Holyfield was stopped by Riddick Bowe in their third fight and looked awful in stopping Bobby Czyz in his last fight before facing Tyson. Even though I always believed Holyfield had Tyson's number psychologically and the physical assets needed to beat him, I didn't think the relic who'd showed up as in his last two fights in November of 1995 and May of 1996 could beat the once-beaten Tyson who knocked out Bruce Seldon in the first round of his last fight. Against this version of Holyfield, I didn't think it was much more than a formality that Tyson would stop a game Holyfield at this stage of his career.

Result: Evander came right out in the first round and showed Mike he wasn't the least bit awed by him. Holyfield out thought, out fought and out muscled Tyson from the onset. In the sixth round he dropped Mike with a left hook to the chest. Tyson got up but slowly but surely the fight began slipping away from him as Holyfield was bettering him at every turn.

At the end of the 10th round Tyson was out on his feet. In the eleventh round Holyfield picked up where he left off in the tenth and started battering Tyson again, which led to referee Mitch Halpren stopping the fight less than a minute into the 11th round. At the time of the stoppage Holyfield led on all three judges scorecards 96-92, 100-93 and 96-92.

Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II (June 28, 1997) Due to Holyfield's upset in the first fight the rematch was a natural.

It was easy to sell because Tyson 45-2 (39) claimed he took Holyfield 33-3 (24) lightly the first time due to how he looked in his previous two bouts and the public and media bought it.

This was a huge fight for Tyson being that he never got a chance to avenge his first loss as a pro to Buster Douglas. That changed because this time he knew Holyfield wasn't a walking corpse and he'd have to be at his best. Both fighters also knew that whoever won this fight would be regarded as the greater fighter in the eyes of history. Holyfield was four months shy of turning 35 and Tyson was two days short of turning 31 when they met this time. At the last moment, at the request of team Tyson, referee Mills Lane was brought in as a replacement to work the fight due to Tyson's complaints about how referee Mitch Halpren handled Holyfield's rough housing during the first fight.

ODDS: Despite losing the first fight Tyson was a 2-1 favorite in the rematch. For this fight a poll by the Las Vegas Review Journal had the media favoring Holyfield 39-23-2.

Pre-fight Thoughts: Seeing that Holyfield really got up to fight Tyson, and that he walked through his biggest punches during the first bout, I was pretty confident that unless Mike got lucky in the first two rounds, Holyfield would stop him again only it wouldn't take 11 rounds. I didn't believe Tyson could recover psychologically from the beating he endured in the first fight. Tyson knew that Holyfield could and would stand up to him and I felt that shook Tyson's confidence and Mike knew the longer the fight lasted the less likely his chances were to win it.

I thought he would really be dangerous in the first two rounds, but as long as Evander could survive the early tornado, which I felt that he would, I was positive he'd stop Mike again.

Result: Holyfield again came out strong and backed Tyson up and was handling Mike when he was at his most dangerous in a fight. Tyson complained about Holyfield head butting him, but they didn't look intentional and Lane let it go. Tyson came out of his corner for the third round without his mouth-piece, Lane made him put it in. Tyson began the round in a fury, but Holyfield was no worse for it. With forty seconds left in the round, Tyson bit Holyfield on his right ear and Holyfield jumped up and down in pain. Lane deducted two points from Tyson and after restoring order the fight resumed. Then in the next clinch Tyson bit Holyfield's other ear and was immediately disqualified. For the record Holyfield retained the title via a third round DQ victory.

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad (September 18, 1999) This was a fight for the WBC/IBF welterweight championship. It was the last Super Fight of the twentieth century and the most eagerly anticipated welterweight title bout since the first Leonard-Hearns fight 18 years earlier.

De La Hoya 31-0 (26) and Trinidad 35-0 (30) cleaned out the welterweight division and had been on a collision course since Oscar started campaigning in the division in 1997. The style clash featured a boxer-counter puncher (De La Hoya) and a hard hitting attacker (Trinidad). The bout was similar to Leonard-Hearns in terms of anticipation, hype, and purses as well as their personalities and skill. De La Hoya had the star quality of a Leonard, whose appeal and draw crossed every demographic.

Trinidad was reminiscent of Hearns in that he saw himself playing second fiddle to to De La Hoya's popularity and was somewhat bitter because he felt that he never was given his due as a fighter outside his native Puerto Rico. Also like Hearns, Trinidad felt that he had something to prove and was fueled by that. De La Hoya like Leonard, knew Trinidad would be at his best for him because everybody he fought rose to the occasion and really raised their game trying to beat him.

ODDS: On the day of the fight De La Hoya was -135 and Trinidad was -105

Pre-fight Thoughts: At the time I thought De La Hoya was the more complete and durable fighter. Trinidad went down early in fights, even though he always came back to win, and that scared me against De La Hoya. Even though Trinidad was seen as the puncher in the fight, for some reason I thought De La Hoya's ability to put his punches together better and quicker would bother Trinidad more than Felix's power would effect Oscar.

I thought Oscar could win the fight by either moving and boxing or if he was forced to, I felt he could also gain the advantage if he was forced to fight it out with Trinidad. Prior to the bout I really thought Oscar was going to beat Felix up and possibly stop him. I thought he'd control Trinidad with his jab and then go in and finish him later in the fight once he had him softened up.

Result: For the first seven of nine rounds, De La Hoya never boxed better or smarter. He had Trinidad following him all over the ring and looked as if he was stuck in the mud. It was shocking how easy De La Hoya was picking his spots and flurrying and then getting out before Trinidad could get set and fire back with authority. But starting in the ninth round he slowed down noticeably. His corner told him that he had the fight won and could only lose if he got careless and knocked out. From rounds 10 through 12 De La Hoya wouldn't engage with Trinidad and tried to run out the clock. Trinidad picked it up and forced De La Hoya all over the ring. Yes, he won the last three rounds but didn't land anything of consequence. The feeling when the bell rang to end the fight was despite losing the last three rounds, De La Hoya won. However, the decision went to Trinidad via a majority decision 115-113, 115-114 and 114-114. The AP scored it 115-113 De La Hoya and HBO's Harold Letterman had it 114-114……..I had it 115-113 De La Hoya.

Mike Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis (June 8, 2002) Lewis 39-2-1 (30) had been hunting Tyson 49-3 (43) since he turned pro in 1989. He always said Tyson was the fighter to beat if you want to be recognized as the champ. At that time, Tyson was three weeks shy of his 36th birthday and hadn't lost since the Holyfield rematch five years earlier. He was also in and out of the ring fighting no more than twice a year versus journeymen since the last fight with Holyfield.

Lewis was fighting no less than twice a year and fought Evander Holyfield twice in 1999, getting a draw that he should've been credited for a win, and then earned a unanimous decision when they met the second time. Lewis was the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division at the time and Tyson knew that if he could beat him his career wasn't over. On the other hand Lewis had accomplished everything he set out to do as a fighter except fight and beat Mike Tyson.

ODDS: On the day of the fight Lewis was a 2-1 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: Tyson hadn't looked that terrific in his previous bouts with Brian Neilson and Andrew Golota, although he stopped them both. But the Golota fight was overturned to a no contest when Tyson tested positive for marijuana in the post fight physical. But Lewis had been knocked out with one punch by Hasim Rahman two fights before facing Tyson. Lennox knocked Rahman out in the rematch but I didn't trust his chin against Tyson. I figured that Tyson was faster, hit harder and was a better boxer than Rahman, if he catches Lewis he'll put him to sleep.

So I went on record picking Tyson to beat Lewis.

Result: The first round was terrific with both fighters landing some good shots on the other, but Tyson got the better of it. From the second round on Lewis systematically took Tyson apart from the outside preventing Mike from getting inside to where he could be most effective. Lewis landed the harder and cleaner punches through the seventh round. In round eight Lewis dropped Tyson twice, the second time with a big right hand. Tyson was decisively counted out and his career as a legitimate title challenger ended then and there.

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather (May 5, 2007) This was the fight that turned Mayweather into a transcendent star.

De La Hoya represented the best known fighter of Mayweather's career and in spite of Floyd being undefeated, he lacked a signature win and payday. To add drama to the fight, Mayweather's father Floyd Sr. was training Oscar at the time. However, they had a falling out over money and Floyd Sr. didn't work with either fighter for this bout. De La Hoya brought in Freddie Roach and Mayweather, as he had been in the past, was trained by his uncle Roger. The fight was for De La Hoya's WBC junior middleweight title.

This was the fight that HBO introduced it's 24/7 four part pre fight exclusive, which helped build the interest in the bout.

De La Hoya-Mayweather also had a record for 2.4 million PPV buys with De La Hoya earning a reported 52 million dollars and Mayweather banking 25 million dollars.

ODDS: Mayweather opened as a 2-1 favorite but a ton of sentimental money poured in on Oscar and by the day of the fight De La Hoya was a 3-2 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: De La Hoya prior to fighting Mayweather had one fight, against Ricardo Mayorga, after being stopped by middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins back in 2004. And in his last five bouts before taking on Mayweather, Oscar was just 3-2.

In truth Oscar hadn't looked impressive in five years since stopping Fernando Vargas in 2002. Prior to fighting De La Hoya, Mayweather looked sharp beating Zab Judah and Carlos Baldomir over the last year.

At the time of the fight De La Hoya was getting by on his name and Mayweather was starting to mature and fill out physically. I knew Floyd couldn't hurt or stop Oscar, but he wouldn't have to because he'd be a little too quick and sharp for him and it looked like a short bet for Mayweather to win a comfortable decision.

Result: The fight was actually more competitive than what most believed it would be. In the early going De La Hoya was controlling Mayweather with his jab. De La Hoya was the aggressor throughout the fight and in the early going Mayweather wasn't very effective with his counter-punching. However, Oscar started to fade as Mayweather predicted before the fight that he would. Floyd made some adjustments and starting beating Oscar to the punch.

Basically Mayweather was just a tad quicker and better defensively and that was the difference. Two judges scored four of the last five rounds for Mayweather resulting in what would be the deciding factor in a very close fight. When it was over Mayweather pulled it out via a 12-round split decision 116-112, 115-113 and 113-115. The AP scored it for Mayweather 116-112.

Ironically Mayweather's father said after the fight, “I thought Oscar won the fight on points, threw more punches and was more aggressive. My son had good defense and caught a lot of his punches, but I still thought Oscar pressed enough to win the fight.”

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 121: Prizefighting in 2021

David A. Avila

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Prizefighting actually dipped underground for the past nine months with professional boxers training illegally in darkened gyms behind shuttered windows and locked doors.

It still remains an underground sport.

The slow death cloud of the coronavirus led to government restrictions forbidding large gatherings especially in enclosed facilities. Boxers still train.

It was a primary reason that prizefighting among the elite was never more bare.

When Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder met at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for their rematch, a crowd of more than 15,000 fans witnessed the heavyweight spectacle. That took place on February 22, and it was the last hurrah in 2020.

A new year begins but the old ways of doing things are no longer in place. Those large purses are unattainable without fans, but it’s difficult to convince the prizefighters. All they know is they want to get paid with pre-2020 checks.

Very few of the top male prizefighters took to the prize ring.

One leading American matchmaker, who did not wish to go on record, said fighters do not understand that ticket sales are an important aspect of the fight game. Many prizefighters feel they are underpaid and being cheated when offered purses that fall under their pre-2020 monies.

No fans, no money.

Television or streaming app revenue is not enough without the clicking of the turnstile.

Fans are the reason that fighters get paid and without fans prizefighting does not exist.

Reality in 2021

Before the advent of television, prizefighters were paid strictly on the basis of ticket sales. The more fans a fighter could attract, the bigger the purse. When television arrived it drastically changed the landscape.

Television networks who delve into boxing bring their own budgets and cable networks like HBO and Showtime drastically changed the landscape. Instead of thousands, millions were being paid to the stars. Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather were the prizefighters leading the way past $20 and $30 million dollar purses. MMA still hasn’t reached those figures. Not even close, unless they are fighting against a boxer as Conor McGregor did several years ago.

During the past three years new players arrived with streaming apps like ESPN+ and DAZN entering the boxing world. One primary advantage has been its worldwide ability to transmit boxing events. However, because not all of the world has access to high tech, those streaming apps are still in the pioneering phase when it comes to building a fan base. At the moment, television still holds the upper hand but the gap is closing quickly.

Lately, DAZN has taken to inserting sponsors logos into their live programming without skipping a beat. It was only a matter of time before they realized the capabilities of inserting commercials digitally. It’s not a new idea; it was explored decades ago by our own BoxingChannel.tv.

Still, as long as the pandemic exists and fans are unable to attend boxing cards the mega fights that drive prizefighting will not take place. The arrival of various vaccines for the coronavirus are a big plus for the sport emerging out of the underground state of boxing. But the fighters need to fight.

Tyson Fury needs to meet Anthony Joshua in a battle for the heavyweight championship and Errol Spence Jr. must fight Terence Crawford this year. Others like Teofimo Lopez are doing their part to open the eyes of fans to the new breed of prizefighters who can fight, talk and excite with their electrifying skills.

Potential stars like Serhii Bohachuk, Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Charles Conwell are catching the eye of fans and all are basically around the same weight classes. They took advantage of the openings for television and streaming spots.

Prizefighters everywhere need to understand this pandemic may last longer than you think. God forbid, but there could be another looming around the corner. It’s time to go for broke and get back in the prize ring. Time is not on your side.

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Remembering Young Stribling on the Centennial of his First Pro Fight

Arne K. Lang

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This coming Sunday, Jan. 17, marks the 100th anniversary of the pro debut of one of boxing’s most interesting characters. On this date in 1921, Young Stribling, carrying 118 pounds, won a 4-round decision over Kid Dombe in the opening bout of a 4-bout card at the auditorium (it had no name) in Atlanta, Georgia. Stribling would go on to fight for the world heavyweight title and would leave the sport as boxing’s all-time knockout king, a distinction that commands an asterisk.

Stribling’s effort against Dombe, who was billed as Georgia’s newsboy champion, made a strong impression on the ringside reporter for the Atlanta Constitution. “A young gentleman,” he wrote, “is destined to become mighty popular in the squared circle. He is Young Stribling of Macon, and a classier bit of boxing machinery hasn’t been uncovered in these parts in a good many years.” Stribling failed to stop his opponent, but left him “badly mussed-up.”

Young Stribling, born William Lawrence Stribling, bubbled into a great regional attraction. Name a place in Georgia – Albany, Americus, Augustus, Bainbridge, Rome, Savannah, Thomasville, etc. – and Stribling fought there. As the star forward on his high school basketball team, one of the best teams in the country, he never ventured far from home for a boxing match until he was deep into his career.

Many of Stribling’s fights were held in conjunction with fairs and carnivals and some others were staged in vaudeville houses. Stribling was the son of professional acrobats. As a young boy, he and his younger brother Herbert performed alongside their parents in a novelty act, a mock prizefight done up in slapstick.

Stribling attracted national attention in 1923 when he opposed veteran Mike McTigue, the reigning light heavyweight champion. The bout was held in a 20,000-seat wooden arena in Columbus, Georgia.

A New Yorker, but an Irishman by birth, McTigue brought his own referee, which wasn’t uncommon in those days. The arbiter was Harry Ertle, a City Marshal in Jersey City, famed as the third man in the ring for Jack Dempsey’s fight with Georges Carpentier, the first fight with a million-dollar gate.

“The road is a treacherous place,” a wizened old fight manager was overheard saying at New York’s fabled Stillman Gym. And Columbus, Georgia, a town situated on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and purportedly a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, was certainly a treacherous place for Team McTigue on that balmy October afternoon.

After 10 rather pedestrian rounds, Ertle called the fight a draw. But he was in such a hurry to exit the ring that he did not make his verdict clear. Rather than call the combatants to the center of the ring and raise both their arms, he merely pointed at both corners, “spreading his hands as a baseball umpire calling a baserunner safe after a slide.”

Ertle didn’t get far. He was immediately accosted by the head of the local organizing committee who upon confirming that Ertle had scored the bout a draw, ordered the referee back into the ring. “You will never get out of here (if you don’t give the fight to Stribling),” he said. “We have all the railroad stations covered.”

Ertle went back into the ring, awarded the fight to Stribling, and then three hours later in the safety of a private residence, he signed a statement saying that his original decision should stand. The incident made all the papers and made Stribling a household name in houses where folks read the sports pages.

When Stribling fought McTigue, he was only 18 years old. And he was fast growing into his body, tipping the scales for the fight at 165 pounds.

Stribling and McTigue renewed acquaintances five months later in Newark, New Jersey. In a shocker, the “Georgia Schoolboy” dominated the Irishman. Stribling won all 12 rounds in the estimation of one ringside reporter. He had McTigue almost out in the 11th and again in the 12th but reverted to clowning and let him off the hook. “It was a bad habit,” said a reporter, “that the kid picked up working the country fair circuit.”

Because New Jersey was then a “no-decision” state, McTigue was allowed to keep his title. Stribling would get another chance at the belt in June of 1926 when he met McTigue’s conqueror Paul Berlenbach at Yankee Stadium.

Boxing writers fawned over Young Stribling who seldom appeared in public without his parents; his father was his chief cornerman. His parents’ names were “Ma” and “Pa,” or that’s what condescending East Coast writers always called them.

The Stribling-Berlenbach fight, wrote syndicated sportswriter Damon Runyon, “was the most widely advertised and most eagerly anticipated event of some years in New York.” The crowd, reportedly 56,000, “attracted more political bigwigs and social and sporting dignitaries than you could shake a stick at.” And the fight, marred by excessive clinching, was a dud. It went the full 15 rounds and Berlenbach, the Astoria Assassin, won decisively (the scores were not announced).

It was back to the drawing board for Young Stribling, which meant back to the life of a barnstormer. Over the next 33 months, he had 75 (!) documented fights and lost only once, that coming at the hands of clever Tommy Loughran in a 10-round bout at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That impressive run boosted him into a match with Jack Sharkey, an “eliminator” in which the winner would be one step removed from fighting for the world heavyweight title vacated by Gene Tunney.

Stribling vs. Sharkey was the last important bout arranged by Tex Rickard who died seven weeks before the bout materialized in an arena erected on a polo field in Miami Beach. It was North against South, and the crowd, nearly 35,000, was solidly against Sharkey, the Boston Gob. But Stribling came up short again in a rather disappointing, albeit closely contested 10-round affair. There was little dissension when the New York referee gave the fight to the Bostonian.

Later that year, Max Schmeling defeated Paulino Uzcudun at Yankee Stadium, setting the stage for a Sharkey-Schmeling fight for the vacant title. In the fourth round, Sharkey was disqualified after sending Schmeling to the canvas with a punch that was palpably low.

After his setback to Jack Sharkey, Young Stribling fought his way back into contention with wins over three ranked opponents after splitting a pair of suspicious fights with Primo Carnera in Europe. In fact, in a 1930 poll of 55 sportswriters by the New York Sun, Stribling was named the best heavyweight, out-polling both Sharkey and Schmeling. When the German picked Stribling for his first title defense, he was, in the eyes of many people, choosing his most worthy challenger.

Carnera vs. Stribling was the icebreaker event at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, the new home of the city’s baseball team, the Indians. The bout came to fruition on the eve of the Fourth of July in 1931, two days after the cavernous ballpark was formally dedicated in an elaborate ceremony.

Stribling started fast, but Schmeling ultimately proved too strong for him. In the 15th round, Schmeling knocked him to the canvas and then pummeled him into a helpless condition, forcing the referee to intervene and waive it off. This wasn’t a great fight, but it was a quite a spectacle, notwithstanding the fact that there were a lot of empty seats. The Ring magazine named it the Fight of the Year.

This would be Young Stribling’s last big-money fight. In his final ring appearance, he outpointed light heavyweight title-holder Maxie Rosenbloom in a 10-round non-title fight in Houston. According to BoxRec, he left the sport with a record of 224-13-14 with 129 knockouts, a record eventually broken by Archie Moore who would be credited with 131.

About those knockouts: It came to be understood that many were bogus, not fictional, but rather set-ups on the carnival circuit where he padded his record against someone with whom he was well-acquainted. But there are also some curious knockouts on Archie Moore’s ledger. On Moore’s list of KO victims one finds the names of Professor Roy Shire and Mike DiBiase, popular grunt-and-groan wrestlers.

As to Young Stribling’s fistic legacy, historians are all over the map. The biography of Stribling by Jaclyn Weldon White (Mercer University Press, 2011) is titled “The Greatest Champion that Never Was.” That’s a bit over the top. The reality is that when Stribling was matched against his strongest opponents, his Sunday punch was missing in action.

You won’t find Stribling’s name on Matt McGrain’s 2014 list of the 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time. Stribling checks in at #23 on McGrain’s list of the all-time greatest light heavyweights and, with all due respect to McGrain, that also strikes us as a bit off-kilter, not giving Stribling enough credit. In more than 250 documented fights, he was stopped only once, that coming with 14 seconds remaining in the 15th and final round of his bout with Max Schmeling.

Regardless of where you choose to place him, Young Stribling was certainly colorful.

Young Stribling lived his life in the fast lane, and with him that isn’t a cliché. He loved to fly, and when he headed off somewhere in his six-seater, said a reporter, “he would take the plane off the ground in a shivering climb so steep veteran flyers gasped.” On the highways, his preferred mode of travel was a motorcycle.

Stribling married his high school sweetheart and they had three children. On Oct. 1, 1933, he left his home in Macon on his motorcycle and never returned. A head-on crash with an incoming car sent him to the hospital where he died the next day from internal injuries. Ma and Pa were there with him in his final hours, as was his wife who had given birth to a baby boy eight days earlier in this very same hospital.

William Lawrence “Young” Stribling was 28 years old when he drew his final breath. He packed a lot of living into those 28 years, including a whirlwind boxing career that took flight 100 years ago this coming Sunday.

Note: The photo is the cover photo from the October 1924 issue of The Ring magazine

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R.I.P. Boxing Promoter Mike Acri

Arne K. Lang

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R.I.P.-Boxing-Promoter-Mike-Acri

Word arrived yesterday, Jan. 12, that boxing promoter Mike Acri died this past Sunday at age 63. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

Acri was from Erie, Pennsylvania, which also happens to be the hometown of Hall of Fame promoter Don Elbaum. The two often worked in tandem, most notably when they promoted the fight between Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde.

Acri promoted Ali; Frazier-Lyde was under contract to the venerable Elbaum. The bout between the daughters of the legendary pugilists, billed as Ali-Frazier IV, took place on June 8, 2001 at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York, kicking off Hall of Fame Weekend at the boxing shrine in nearby Canastota.

Mike Acri birthed the tradition of holding pro fights at Turning Stone on the Eve of the Hall of Fame festivities. The first of these shows, in 1998, pitted Hector Camacho against West Virginia journeyman Tommy Small. Camacho TKOed Small in the sixth, recapturing some of the prestige he had lost in his pussycat showing against Oscar De La Hoya.

Acri was especially proud of the Turning Stone series. “At these events, you have memorabilia people, you have past inductees, and most important, boxing fanatics from everywhere… it’s the ultimate thrill to know that my fight cards are the center of attention for the biggest boxing weekend of the year,” he told prominent boxing writer Jake Donovan for a 2005 story that ran on this site.

Acri had his best run with Paul Spadafora, the trouble-plagued “Pittsburgh Kid” who went on to win the IBF lightweight title and left the sport with a record of 49-1-1.

Spadafora fought frequently – 15 fights in all — at the Mountaineer racino in Chester, West Virginia, where Acri was the matchmaker. The little town of Chester sits roughly 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and 40 miles south of Youngstown, Ohio, cities with rich boxing traditions.

Although Acri was with Spadafora when the “Kid” was just getting started, he was best known as a rejuvenator who latched hold of fighters with name value who were cascading into irrelevancy and restored some of their lost luster while maneuvering them into a few good late-career paydays. Exhibit A was Roberto Duran.

Acri was one of the prime movers of the lucrative rubber match between Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. In his next outing, Duran was shockingly defeated by Pat Lawlor, a third-rater, and was written off as finished, but Acri extracted more mileage from the Panamanian legend, guiding him into two good-money fights with Vinny Pazienza and two with the aforementioned Camacho, interspersed with stay-busy fights that served to keep his name in the news.

Mike Acri’s last co-promotion, if that is the word, was the acclaimed Showtime documentary “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story,” for which he received an Executive Producer credit. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his family and loved ones.

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